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Art Therapy, Stress Management, and Lupus

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Feeling overwhelmed from lupus or the daily grind? Art therapy may offer stress relief and a non-verbal outlet.

Stress is a well-known trigger when it comes to lupus and other autoimmune diseases. During periods of high stress, both emotional and physical, people with lupus report increases in symptoms. And, research suggests that it may lead to flares via an amplification of cytokine production.

The benefits of non-medication therapies are still being studied. However, preliminary research across many diseases has shown value of these treatment strategies, particularly as it relates to stress management and reduction. Many early studies explore the value for people with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Common non-traditional therapies include:

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What is art therapy?

Art therapy is a technique of using non-verbal, creative outlets to help a person express themselves. It is founded on the belief that there is therapeutic value in artistic self-expression. There are two steps to the art therapy process:

  1. Creating the art
  2. Considering the created product for psychological or emotional undertones

People often find that working with a credentialed art therapist can help in the self-reflected portion of the art experience. These therapists are trained to understand how color, texture, and additional mediums may be relevant for another individual. Non-verbal messages, symbols, and metaphors can often be found which may help people better understand patterns of behavior, emotions, and feelings.

Examples of art therapy include:

  • drawing
  • painting
  • sculpting
  • coloring
  • collage
  • computer art
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Lupus and Art Therapy

A 2007 study published in the Journal of Clinical Rheumatology used disease drawings from the patient’s perspective. 38 women with lupus (SLE) participated in the exercise.

The participants attended a ‘My Life’ course for people with lupus. During one of the sessions, the participants were asked to draw a picture of their disease and then comment on the pictures. While no measurements of stress were evaluated, the researcher concluded that drawing provided a “good beginning” to conversation. And, it was an effective strategy to communicate differences and challenges to clinicians. In this way, it was seen as an advantage over verbal interviewing alone.

A 2010 review published in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association explored studies published between 1999-2007 where art therapy was the only intervention. These studies included had various participant ages, including children, and numerous diseases, including mental health concerns.

In addition to the variation in participants, the measured result also differed across the studies. Strategies for measuring improvement included measurements of stress, symptom indices, and some behavioral measures like speech fluency.

Despite these variations, the researchers concluded that there is a “small body of quantifiable data to support the claim that art therapy is effective.”

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Looking for additional information? Speak with your lupus treatment team and check out the American Art Therapy Association.

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